Showing posts from 2010

New Writing Opportunity

Having my internet slowed for the Christmas and New Year period and then catch a respiratory infection floating about, was a great opportunity for me to write lots, and free flow at that.
No way could I concentrate, in between fits of respiratory distress, on any of the edits I had going. Or think of starting a new section chapter story based in the main universe.
I just started. Thinking while I went. Pecking words out slower than a praying mantis.I wasn’t going anywhere. I started with a character. Eleven-year-old girl. Earnest. Just coming into her adult teeth and with a swag of unkempt raven black hair.
If she were an ordinary fantasy child you’d say to put Harry Potter specs on her.She doesn’t need any. You only thought you knew the sort of girl I’ll be talking about.
I just wrote her, what she did, her brothers, one older and one younger and sister, who they are, how they relate with one another. Plenty of sibling rivalry, I can tell you.
I expect this will mean the young adult ca…

Crows on my Mind

I read an article about the origin of different species of birds, recently. I discovered that all seven species of crows are thought by some crow experts to originate in Australia, something like 6-8 million years ago.

Probably the only species of animal from here that's gone world wide, I thought. It is like they flew against the prevailing inflow of other animals. Should be a story in that. They are such a maligned animal. Yet so smart.

They can certainly tell the difference, at the distance of at least 500 metres, between a man stepping outside his door carrying a rifle and a man carrying a stick or a man carrying a rolled up umbrella. I've been a witness more than once to them stopping their talk long enough to study the said man, fly off if it was a gun and continue their conversation after making sure it was an umbrella.

Crows are in my mind. They are waiting for a story, waiting until I find out more about their tribe. I do seem to remember them in fables. That'd be…

My Writing Practice as Cooking

Metaphor is using words and ideas to describe things that they do not literally refer to. That's according to my dictionary, the Concise Oxford, 1964. Me comparing my writing practice to cooking on a stove is me living one of my metaphors. Cooking up stories is about the only sort of serious cooking I do these days.

Right now, I have my novel Lodestar (working title) simmering on a back burner. It's only halfway through its structural edit but I have a couple of short stories that needed work in time for being sent out by various deadlines. The second draft of Catching the So-Called Moogerah Monster is finished. It also sits on a back burner, to keep warm in preparation for the final proof read.

The Red Carpet Welcome is on the front of the stove. It is having a new ending being confabulated. I'm going with the notes made on it way back at the beginning of the year by my writing group. Two out of the three who commented weren't happy with the original end so it's ba…

Bring Back 'Stonkered'

Stonkered. I love that word. And how amazing to see it quoted in WQ, the Queensland Writers Centre Magazine in an article about recommendations for books, in the same week that I used it in the short story I was writing. I thought I was the only one in Australia with an affection for it. I'll definitely be putting Words Fail Me by Hugh Lunn on my Christmas list.

The lines in my story using 'stonkered':

Ushen shrugged. “He collects them. On the surface of a planet they live. Some are his support system.”

Tardi was stonkered. He heard at least four words he had no understandings for in the context. He looked at her. More closely. “Who are you?”

“Daughter of the support system. Young and angry when I ran away. They need me now.”

I use it in the sense of being totally and utterly flabbergasted. Can't you just see the feelings of being stunned and stumped in it?

The Oxford Pocket Australian Dictionary (1996) also still believes in it.
stonkeredadj colloq 1. utterly exhausted.…


Routine is to writing what pens are to paper. Or in other words, you/I can get an idea down with lipstick on the tailboard of a ute, or with a stick of charcoal on an envelope for a minute during our chores.

But to get real substance, we need routine. I sort through my dream-generated ideas while making my breakfast on automatic. I eat it and write while I sip three mugs of tea, in my case by pen into my scrapbook journal.

Routine is sitting down at the computer every day at the same time to type. I do chores first. Running around outside and in. Pegging out the wash. The dishes. Vacuuming. I stop my chores at 10 a/m no matter what I’m doing. It will all be waiting the next day. I write until 12.00 or 1.00 p/m.

This morning though, a tradesman rang. He’d be early.

My routine tends to be secondary to people. This morning no exception. He arrived at 9.45. No matter, I will re-arrange my writing times today.

Because, what you/I write when, also needs consideration. Usually in this fi…

Non-fiction: Leading at the Edge

Kes the new character in my novel Lodestar needed to grow into a leader among his people so I re read Leading at the Edge, one of my favourite books. It details how Ernest Shackleton brought back his whole crew from a failed attempt to reach the South Pole. This back in 1914-1915, before the days of lightweight waterproof snow gear, gps, motorised ice transport and other conveniences without which we could now not make such an attempt. Shackleton's expedition had linen tents without floors, wooden boats and dogs to pull their sleds, to name but a few differences.
The book starts with a eleven page precis of Shackleton's amazing achievement. Then the ten characteristics of a really good leader are described and related to Shackleton's strategies during his journey. Modern situations in industry and commerce are also quoted though these lack resonance for me. Shackleton remains one of my favourite hero-type characters.
Kes, in chapter 23, is chained to his least favourite p…

Writing and Rules

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading around in the Miles VorkosiganSaga by Lois McMaster Bujold, all available installments in the Richmond Tweed Regional Library.

It is interesting to me that every so often I get hold of an excellent read, in this case six so far excellent reads, and it breaks a lot of the writing rules I’m learning to negotiate. For example, the one that says adverbs are a no-no. I did recently read someone on their blog doing a pass over their latest w-i-p, cutting out adverbs and replacing them with ‘stronger’ verbs.

I’m frequently stuck for ‘stronger’ verbs and I’m forever looking for a verb dictionary. If such an species exists. Yes, the thesaurus is good sometimes. But I also find myself making up words (another no-no) and making them up from nouns (n apparently serious no-no) or retrieving words gone out of use. Anglo-Saxon is a good source. Reading an old dictionary is a favourite way to spend the odd spare ten minutes

So far, one of my favourite…

Digital Publishing

The Next Text seminar (at Northern Rivers Writers Centre, Byron Bay) was a little like a cyclonic wind picking up and disarranging all my previous ideas about digital publishing …

Kate Eltham, CEO at QWC and of IfBooks Australia, after a short history of the book so far explained how content is being separated from container, and all the different ways the content can now be contained – and it is the early days yet.

While books as objects (first editions, art books, limited editions, etc) are still important, Kate says, content released from the constraints imposed by print enables a much closer relationship between readers and writers. Eg blogs, websites, alternative reality games, social media.

The book as a never ending conversation – Kate’s question, will it still be long form narrative? Who knows. But it was great to have my ideas confirmed. All I have to do now is work out how to make it happen.

Things to talk about, for readers: access, ownership, new cultures. For writers: …

A Novel: Boys of Blood and Bone

The contrasting treatment of the two protagonists, Henry and Andy, in Boys of Blood and Bone made me aware, again, how writerly writing can add depth and meaning to a character’s point of view.
A great title. The plot is awkward to say the least. My problems reading it began with Henry. He comes across as such a lightweight. What he thinks and does seemed unnecessarily weak. Anything would contrast with Andy’s theatre of war and blood and guts and mud and cold. Trot, a secondary character in the modern arena, is much more his own man.

Henry, driving through the countryside breaks down and must seek help at the nearest little town. Trot gives him a lift in and introduces Henry to Janine, Trot’s girlfriend, and Miss Cecelia, Andy’s fiancĂ©e all those years ago.

Henry is drawn into a mystery about Andy. Janine encourages him to read Andy’s diary and he seems to agree out of mere politeness. Andy’s diary is non committal to the point of being uninformative. As a carrying device into Andy…

Characterisation, the Process

I was again trying to pin down my ideas for the Monster-Moored series, “once and for all”. How often have I already thought those words? I re-realised, once again, that my stories always start with a character. Tardi Mack, in this case.

And so, to be able to hang a plot onto his life, I need a character arc for the whole 500 years. That number is merely a reminder from me to myself that to fit in all the territory I want to cover, the saga needs to be longer than just a couple of generations. That’s the plan, as Summer says to Mal at the end of Serenity. Though I’m still learning the trick of spinning a long life thread.

For the Tardi/alien mental relationship in Part I (Monster-Moored) I went back to William Sargant’s little book Battle for the Mind.

Though first published back in 1957, and one would therefore suspect its conclusions completely out of date, I like it for its comprehensive description of Pavlov’s experiments with dogs and Sargant’s own extrapolations of the physiolo…

Don't Tell and Don't Just Show

For the last month or so, writing Tardi Mack, the point-of-view character in Monster-Moored, my project-on-the-go, I’ve been worrying that I was doing more telling again. An easy habit to fall into. I’ve been feeling increasingly distanced from him, as though he was a marionette dancing on the ends of his strings.

Though a character being read has a certain autonomy, a character being written must be even more fully in the control of his or her creator than the much-quoted “Show, Don’t tell.” advice suggests. Yet all the best stories allow me, as reader, to be the character I identify with.

This is what I aspire to as a writer – the construction of characters readers can inhabit. Not telling about character. Not showing character. But allowing the reader to be the character.

An avatar generally expects to act independently within the confines of its game world, where a reader inhabiting a character in a novel has not just the world but also the plot laid out in front of them.


A Novel: The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

I’m reading The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break again. First published in 2000. This edition by Canongate Books of the UK.
This novel is a great illustration of the Closed System of Belief concept in an speculative fiction story for adult readers, set in the present, even though it is marketed as main stream literature.

In a Closed System of Belief the fantastical elements are part of the scenery and are normal in the world of the story. There are no Points of Disbelief, as in an Open System, where characters must face the reality of the particular magic or unbelievable logic and either accept or reject it. Where reasons have to be invented for both.

I had been hitting that problem for a while in my present work-in-progress without being able to figure out how to express it to be able to talk about it. I thank Scott Westerfeld for this explanation from his blog.

For speculative fiction writers The Minotaur it is a terrific study in how to amalgamate an unreal character in the hu…

Save our Semicolons

I read somewhere that we don’t need the semicolon in fiction. The semicolon is a has-been, a left-over of the nineteenth century. Only gets in the way. Readers can’t hack it, it disrupts their race to the end. Editors don’t like it because writers don’t know how to use it.

But what if we don’t want to read to the pace of the average cops and robbers tale? If we don’t want to write the increasingly choppy rhythms of shorter and shorter sentences? This because most people seem to think that the semicolon can very well be replaced with a full stop. There can’t be just action action action. We also need the rhythms of a long lazy swell. We can’t have a storm on every page.

My primary informant on this issue is the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, published in 1966, republished in 1992. The argument will probably be that the language has changed, and that we’ve moved on. Here we are already in 2010. Get used to it. Nevertheless …

'6.24 The semicolon separates parts of …

Non-Fiction: Deep Survival

I had an image here of the book, but Google in its wisdom has disallowed it. 

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales is one of my favourite books and one that I re read yearly. It's a perfect example of how reading can allow speculative fiction writers, with a bit of empathy imagination and plenty of extrapolation to write realistically about being caught by an avalanche on the Moon, being in a ski-ing accident on your nearest icebound planet--Pluto maybe--trouble at sea, perhaps on the methane seas of Venus?

Getting lost in mountains, how to get ready for take-off from an aircraft carrier, wherever you take that one, and the myriad other death defying situations necessary to their stories.

Deep Survival is a good read also because Gonzales is a good writer. Exciting. Fast-paced. Good first sentences, something I've been studying this week. Every action-packed instance is explained clearly and analysed with regard to physical and neurological influence…

A Novel: The Spell of Rosette

I’ve been very involved this week in The Spell of Rosette by Kim Falconer, a Voyager title published in 2009. Given the title and front cover illustration I was expecting fantasy. Even the back cover blurb does not give the secret away, speaking as it does of witches, spells, a shape-shifting high priestess, wolf-like Lupins and witch familiars such as Drayco the temple cat.

another missing image, Google's doing
It was when I read the prologue that my jaw dropped. JARROD is a sentient quantum computer? What’s a sentient, quantum, computer doing in a fantasy tale? Or is it science fiction? Science fantasy? A new cross-over genre?
Probably all of the above, with fantasy definitely in there too. Very comfortably under the speculative fiction umbrella, I quote from the back cover, Rosette is a child of two worlds: Gaela, steeped in magic, and an Earth choked with failing technology. The key to their survival is literally in her blood, a spell passed down through her family line to pres…

Inventing the World

The anthropological take on making a story resonates for me. As well as creating our own stories we do it in groups and families and tribes. We superimpose a grid of common knowledge and understanding on a landscape. In the far past we did this to enable our survival. It’s how, anthropologists tell us, early humans travelled the world – by making it part of their story as they traveled over it.

Now we do it because it’s in our genes. How often have you been told the way to somewhere like this? “Cross the street where Aunty Viva broke her leg. Watch out because cars don’t like stopping there.” In the past this kind of knowledge was told and retold. It became myths and legends. It became the instructions to get to the next waterhole.


Back at the story in the making - still no title - Evan swallows down his breakfast convulsively. It wanted to come up when he saw the eye of a string again, even more lurid than the previous day.  After all, as garbage-boy in his first job, he had to …